Meadows in the Mountains
Smolyan, Bulgaria | 13 – 16 June
Meadows in the Mountains is the actualisation of a dream that plenty of UK festivals have been trying to emulate for the past 25 years, because it is genuine, rather than trying so hard to give the illusion of genuineness. It’s the un-sanded stool to your ‘urban rustic’ Ikea Billy Chair. Rather than redefining the idea of a festival, Meadows is a reminder of what a real festival is.
Through a miniature airport, hours of post-Soviet ghost towns, and a taxi up a hill being shaken violently until the terrain becomes just too rough, we finally arrive at the festival site in the back of a horse drawn cart led by a leather skinned villager. Admittedly, after a pilgrimage like this you’d look at Leeds Festival in a different light … but this is truly like nothing you have ever seen. Swivel and take a good look at what you’ve just scaled: vast green mountains dressed in white mist around the waist and overlapping for as far as you can see. How commonplace the ridiculous view becomes makes you look back on the experience and laugh. You turn to the festival to see a patchwork of vibrant colours and expressions smattered across the two stages and ambling around the endless mysteries of the site. Enormous Dr. T.J. Eckleburg-like eyes watch from a treetop over this strange mountain and its goings on. Strange for the locals, at least, who cheerily gawp and wave as these wackily dressed foreigners crawl up their slope at unheard of hours. 8pm to 10am: these are the hours of action.
Sunset and Sunrise are the two stages, both kitted out impressively for such a small festival, of which maximum capacity is 1000. The Sunrise stage holds mostly leftfield or chilled out house DJs while the Sunset stage accommodates folk bands, hip-hop acts and more experimental artists during the earlier hours of the night. The line-up is exclusively underground (mostly shipped over from Berlin) but truly superb. Ruede Hagelstein, San Proper, Strangelove, Aayan Nidam and Andrew Ashong with his new band are big highlights over the weekend but it’s not the names that you follow. All the money they might have saved avoiding a big name act is surely blown on the tremendous transport costs and Funktion-One rigs.
For the punter, the cost of Meadows weighs in at about £100 for an early bird ticket including the shuttle bus costs, nicely cushioned by the ridiculously cheap food and drinks from the local village shop. The option to rent out a room (usually with 2 beds) in a house in the village is around £15 for the 3 days. Pretty good value considering there was a stream and a small vegetable cultivation in my garden.
Then, of course, there is the £50 option of shooting off to Devin on the Monday for a disentangling day and night at a high class hotel resort with an enormous luxurious pool and spa, nightclub stuffed with the Meadows rig and their DJs, and comically bad (but free) food. As I sweated out the bad stuff in the steam room, I quickly glanced around and noticed a common confusion descending on the festival unwinders before a new white mist (not dissimilar to that one around the festival mountains) engulfed us all. What the hell is going on here? This is not a hangover. This is not what happens after a festival.
Though the luxury was an unexpected end to proceedings, in reality, it’s the collaboration with the surrounding village that is the soul of Meadows. Security and transport are non-uniformed locals who work with you rather than intimidate you into submission. This relationship is also an unprecedented boost to an almost non-existent economy. Meadows began simply as a party between friends and that community vibe is still very much alive here.
Meadows in the Mountains is the festival you didn’t know existed anymore. Its London promoters didn’t hunt down the incredible site: the find was a fluke. It’s a lucky discovery rather than a creation, which is the only way something as raw and pure as this could ever come about.
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Words: Henry Johns
Photography: Jack Pasco and Georgia Camp